From the Journals

Case fatality rate for COVID-19 near 1.4%, increases with age


The risk for death from COVID-19 is 1.38% overall, according to a new study. However, the fatality rate rises with age, from well below 1% among children aged 9 years or younger to nearly 8% for seniors aged 80 years or older, the latest statistics show.

“These early estimates give an indication of the fatality ratio across the spectrum of COVID-19 disease and show a strong age gradient in risk of death,” Robert Verity, PhD, of University College London, and colleagues, wrote in a study published online in the Lancet Infectious Diseases.

Among those infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the risk for hospitalization also increases with age. Specifically, 11.8% of people in their 60s require admission, as do 16.6% of people in their 70s and 18.4% for those in their 80s or older.

The case fatality estimates are based on data regarding individual patients who died from COVID-19 in Hubei, China, through Feb. 8, as well as those who died in Hong Kong, Macau, and 37 countries outside China through Feb. 25.

“It is clear from the data that have emerged from China that case fatality ratio increases substantially with age. Our results suggest a very low fatality ratio in those under the age of 20 years. As there are very few cases in this age group, it remains unclear whether this reflects a low risk of death or a difference in susceptibility, although early results indicate young people are not at lower risk of infection than adults,” Dr. Verity and colleagues wrote.

The authors emphasized that serologic testing of adolescents and children will be vital to understanding how individuals younger than 20 years may be driving viral transmission.

In an accompanying editorial Shigui Ruan, PhD, of the department of mathematics at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla., wrote that early detection, diagnosis, isolation, and treatment, as practiced in China, may help to prevent more deaths

“Even though the fatality rate is low for younger people, it is very clear that any suggestion of COVID-19 being just like influenza is false: Even for those aged 20-29 years, once infected with SARS-CoV-2, the mortality rate is 33 times higher than that from seasonal influenza,” he noted.

Dr. Ruan, who uses applied mathematics to model disease transmission, noted that otherwise healthy people stand a good chance – approximately 95% – of surviving COVID-19, but the odds of survival for people with comorbidities will be “considerably decreased.”

Time to death or discharge

Dr. Verity and colleagues first used data on deaths of 24 patients in mainland China and on 165 persons who recovered from infection outside of China to estimate the time between onset of symptoms and either death or discharge from the hospital. They estimated that the mean duration from symptom onset to death is 17.8 days, and the mean duration to discharge is 24.7 days.

They then estimated age-stratified case fatality ratios among all clinically diagnosed and laboratory-confirmed cases in mainland China to the end of the study period (70,117 cases).

The estimated crude case fatality ratio, adjusted for censoring, was 3.67%. With further adjustment for demographic characteristics and under-ascertainment, the authors’ best estimate of a case fatality ratio in China is 1.38%.

The following figure shows adjusted fatality infection rates by age group.

COVID-19 mortality vs. all infections by age in China

The investigators noted that the case fatality estimate is lower than the estimates for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreaks, both caused by coronaviruses, but “is substantially higher than estimates from the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic.”

Earlier reports suggested that the overall fatality rate in China through Feb. 11 was 2.3%. The rate in Hubei province, which is believed to be where the infection started, was 2.9%.

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